Hotlines fill tech, homework help gaps for teachers, parents during distance ed

Dive Brief:

  • Shortly after schools closed last spring, the Rhode Island Department of Education partnered with a local nonprofit, Highlander Institute, to launch a popular tech help hotline for teachers during remote learning, according to The Hechinger Report.
  • The lines, manned by fellows savvy in both technology and pedagogy, allowed any teacher to call in if they felt they needed additional support. 
  • Though the hotline was originally meant to support teachers, it soon became available to parents seeking assistance with remote learning platforms. Highlander Institute also teamed up with local partners to provide translation services in 200 languages for parents who didn’t speak English and to help with special education requests.

Dive Insight:

Volunteer tech helplines add bandwidth to district IT teams, many of which were strained after school closures. For example, shortly after closures, Los Angeles Unified School District launched helplines for 50,000 educators and hundreds of thousands of students. There are separate numbers for parents, students and educators.

The district trained 115 people by April to provide support to callers between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days a week. Educators could also access help through a messaging service and surface-level requests can be weeded out by diverting callers to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document, which should be placed behind a firewall for security.

In Indiana, retired teachers are filling the connectivity gap by providing students with a homework help hotline, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana. Elementary students are directed to general elementary education teachers while high school and middle school students are assisted by educators with expertise in math, science, language arts and social studies. Out of more than 1 million Indiana students, over 60% had limited or no access to online learning, which inspired the phone hotline. 

A survey released last spring indicates there are gaps between what parents feel they need in regard to distance learning and what they say districts provide. For example, 39% of parents said an online learning hotline or chatline function would be extremely helpful. However, only 12% of respondents reported their school provided that service. When it comes to communication from schools, parents found texts and phone calls most effective, but few parents reported teachers using those communication techniques at the time.

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